The film industry came back swinging Wednesday, calling recent claims by tech companies including Google that online piracy legislation will destroy the internet "nonsense," while also labeling those assertions as an effort to “gin people up.”
Speaking at a phone briefing with the media, Michael O’Leary, senior executive VP for global policy and external affairs for the Motion Picture Assn. of America (MPAA), said that the scourge of online piracy “is only getting worse” and that proposed legislation in Congress would go a long way toward combating the problem.
He argued that the recent outcry from Google and other tech companies against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) had more to do with economics than with concerns about civil liberties.
Opponents of the bill, including many public advocacy groups, say it is fraught with potential unintended consequences that could censor free speech and smother innovation.
Speaking alongside O'Leary, Kathy Garmezy, associate executive director for government and international affairs for the Directors Guild of America, pointed out that 75 percent of film earnings typically come after theatrical release, thus the industry’s long-established revenue stream is particularly vulnerable to illegal online distribution.
If producers can’t recoup their investments, Garmezy said, then fewer films will be made — something she said the industry is already experiencing.
Also at the conference, Scott Harbinson, international representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employee’s Union, said the fact that his organization, which represents workers “behind the camera,” is on the same side as the studios points to the severity of the problem for the industry.
He said piracy “erodes from the bottom up,” and affects those who toil at the less glamorous end of the industry such as grips, electricians and hair stylists. He also pointed out that most of the industry’s pension and health plans are funded through residuals, which are being decimated by online piracy.
The MPAA says that $58 billion is lost annually from the theft of movies, music and video games and that one-quarter of all internet traffic is copyright infringing. It points to a study that found that 77 percent of “sites that commonly link to or host infringing film and television material get more traffic from Google than any other site online.”
O’Leary said Hollywood and Silicon Valley should be working together for their mutual survival. He suggested the piracy rift between the two industries stemmed in part from a “beltway” mentality seeking to profit from conflict.
Still, O’Leary had strong words for Google, which he said had provided little more than “rhetoric” in its professed efforts against online piracy.
He mentioned that a Google representative had no answer at a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing when Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) asked why tech giant still allowed access to an infringing website called “Pirate Bay.”
He could not say whether MPAA president Chris Dodd had made any headway in efforts to find common ground with the tech companies.
The Obama Administration has yet to take a position on the legislation, but O’Leary said that both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made statements supporting copyright protection.
The MPAA offered pages of written arguments rebuffing many of the critiques of SOPA, saying that it would not pose a threat against free speech or usher in censorship.
Similarly, the MPAA states that the law would not require online entities to police their own sites; rather, it only asks them to cooperate with authorities when a rogue site is identified.